Saved By A Tree

Posted by Rural Missourian on Mar 7th, 2009

In the frantic world of financial woes, thinking long-term when one has a chance to make good money in the immediate is a rare quality. We see the short-term today with landowners that are quick to clear cut their forests to make a quick buck, rather than steward them to develop healthy forests that yield premium lumber on a sustainable basis for the generations to come. I want to share an amazing story about one tree and a farmer that, though it has a bittersweet ending, exemplifies the long-term vision that is lacking today. During the Great Depression Lloyd Hayes lived in Williams County, Ohio, where he farmed and like so many in the Midwest had a woodlot with walnut trees. There was one tree in particular, a beautiful black walnut with a flawless trunk that was straight as an arrow, for which someone offered him $300 in the early days of the 1930’s. In 2009 dollars that was $4,625, which was a fortune back then when thousands lost their farms and many stood in long soup lines just to eat. Even though it was a tempting sum of money during a time when it would have made a huge difference, Lloyd decided to let the tree grow, a living asset that could be cashed in later after it matured.

After he died in 1972, Mr. Hay’s family was hit with sizable inheritance taxes, which put them in a real quandary if they wanted to keep the family farm intact. They were forced to sell some of its land or sell some trees. As the tree next to the black gold tree had been recently struck by lightning, they decided to sell the mature giant before it was next. In 1976 they sold a total of 18 black walnut trees for $80,000, which included the black gold tree. In 2009 dollars that is a whopping $296,860!

[On a side note — This only testifies to the appalling decrease in the purchasing power of the dollar since the Federal Reserve began to debase it in 1913. You might be shocked to realize that the dollar has lost 95% of its value since 1913. To check this out for yourself go to the Inflation Calculator on the web, which keeps track of the purchasing power of the dollar since 1913. We are close to its total collapse where it will become worthless (as all fiat currencies have in history) along with “paper investments” denominated in it such as pensions, 401k’s, etc. This is why I keep hammering the point that you should get out of paper now, even if it means taking a hit on taxes or penalties, and put it into land and a means of production. I remember vividly walking the streets of Mira Flores, an affluent suburb of Lima, Peru, during its economic meltdown of the early 1990’s and seeing money blowing about, as inflation destroyed it daily. My father-in-law, who worked hard his whole life and put aside a decent retirement nestegg, saw it devalue into a pittance. Yes, the principle was still intact along with its accrued interest, but it barely paid the electric bill when it was finally needed.]

What is remarkable is that the one black gold tree that was allowed to mature sold for $30,000, which in 2009 dollars is $111,300 . . . not a bad return on a living asset. This tree yielded a 57 foot, grade A veneer log (defect free) that measured 38.50 inches in diameter at breast height (4.5 ft off the ground), which would have rendered more than 2,300 board feet (Doyle scale). Now that’s a tangible asset . . . true wealth. What a bittersweet story that this asset that Lloyd Hays so wisely allowed to mature had to be used to pay inheritance taxes to save the family farm, but they did have it, which is the point.

9 Responses

  1. Herrick Kimball Says:

    This story brings to mind a dairy farmer I once did a lot of work for. He was an old bachelor who had bought up several farms over the years and had a lot of land. One of his farms had an old, abandoned house and a large barn that he kept in good repair. The farm was was surrounded by fields. Between the barn and the house was a majestic black walnut tree. The farmer told me that he had been offered a lot of money for the tree. I can’t remember the sum but I recall thinking it was an absurd amount. I asked him why he didn’t sell it. He replied that if he needed to work on his hay baler at that farm in the summer he liked to park under the shade of that tree.

    Clearly, he didn’t need the money. And there are some things that money just can’t buy.

    The farmer has since died and I often wonder if that tree is still there.

  2. Allen Shropshire Says:

    I think this was a wonderful story of hope and of the thoughtful care of a father for future generations. It would have been easy to cash it in for himself, but he chose to save it, and it saved the farm. Now that’s cool! It reminds me of an important principal we taught told the boys, that being “It is better to forgo present pleasures for future benefits. Lloyd Hayes did just that.
    Thanks for the story!

  3. Bob Mothershed Says:

    Amazing story! While I agree with Herrick and Allen, I am still spinning with the thought the 50 black walnut trees on the West Virginia property we were recently offered! Greed doesn’t only call to the rich man… Contentment is a precious virtue.

  4. randallgerard Says:

    My own esteemed grandfather, God rest his soul, plowed with an ancient Allis Chalmers tractor for 20 years, choosing instead to buy more land. Sadly, his boys missed the lesson, and the farm he amassed, 640 out of the original 800 acres, is out of the family today. My grandmother still has the original 160, though.

  5. Rural Missourian Says:

    Herrick, thanks for the story. Praise the Lord there are some things that money cannot buy. There are a lot of folks around here who think the old walnut tree in their front yard is worth a fortune, who are most surprised to find out that besides the shade and nuts it provides, its has little commercial value . . . just firewood waiting for the time it finally dies.

    Allen, it’s especially hard in an “instant gratification” economy of credit to convince people to save for the future. Even those who do save keep their savings in the form of fiat currency based “investments” that silently loose their purchasing power as it supposedly grows with interest.

    Bob, though there are plenty of woodlots with great timber for sure, if one can steward them with the future in mind then not only can one harvest valuable timber that is prime for the harvest (just prior to these trees starting their natural death decline), but one can develop a healthy woodlot that yields generations of prime timber in a sustainable manner that improves the forest. This is what excites me about biblical agrarianism.

    Randall, how sad that the generational continuity of the American farmer died off at the end of WWII when their children were drawn to the glamour of big city jobs. At one time my family on my mother’s side were noted for their draft horse skills in working combines and threshers in the Dakotas. Today, I am the only one that is agrarian minded.

  6. Matt Davis Says:

    Hello Pastor Tom,

    Glad you are home safe. I trust you had a blessed time with the saints in CA.

    I thought this story was very profound. We as Christians must do all we can to pass on this mindset to our children even if we have nothing else to pass to them.

    Lord willing and the Commies don’t rise, we may have a little more to pass on.

  7. Matt Davis Says:

    Sgt. MacKenzie

    Scots Tongue

    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    When they come a wull staun ma groon
    Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

    Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear
    Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

    Ains a year say a prayer faur me
    Close yir een an remember me

    Nair mair shall a see the sun
    For a fell tae a Germans gun

    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
    Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
    Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

    English Translation

    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone
    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone

    When they come I will stand my ground
    Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid

    Thoughts of home take away my fear
    Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

    Once a year say a prayer for me
    Close your eyes and remember me

    Never more shall I see the sun
    For I fell to a German’s gun

    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone
    Lay me down in the cold cold ground
    Where before many more have gone
    Where before many more have gone

  8. Chad Butler Says:

    What you are saying about getting out of fiat paper and into production land is so fundamentally sound. I receive a newsletter from a farm management company here in Illinois and they have written articles on how Illinois farmland has outperformed gold as an investment and inflation hedge.

    The one main thing that I feel has kept us from total implosion at this point is Brenton Woods and the fact that the dollar is the global reserve currency (evident from the rush into the dollar last fall when the meltdown appeared to be global).

    I have long felt that the end would be signaled by China and that may happen soon. They have in the past held to a “dollar is king” view of currency. However, it seems that the out-of-control spending by our government has pushed them to the breaking point and they are now calling for a global reserve currency. If that happens, the loud sucking sound you hear will be the entire US economy going down the drain.

  9. Rural Missourian Says:

    Matt, the time spent in California was blessed of the Lord, though I am most glad to be home. Thanks for sending the words from the lament “Sgt. MacKenzie.” This haunting Scottish song from the movie “We Were Soldiers” only adds to the honor of those men who died in the Ia Drang valley in November of 1965. Though I believe the Vietnam war was a godless fiasco, my hat is off to those brave men that were willing to stand their ground and lay down their lives for their fellow brothers.

    Chad, thanks for the comment. You are right, as the world’s nations finally acknowledge the handwriting on the wall for the almighty dollar they will soon abandon it to the trash heap of dead fiat currencies. As they sell off their dollar denominated “assets,” the trillions that will flood into the US money supply will be bring the death knell of spiraling inflation. No matter the outcome of the dollar, owning land and a means of production has always been synonymous with true liberty and prosperity, not paper “assets” controlled by a monied aristocracy.

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